Tuesday, June 4, 2019
Psssst. . .we’ve just visited a secret Greek island and today I am going to tell you where to find it.
|A car ferry links mainland Peloponnese with Spetses|
Well, . . .it really isn’t a secret island as the many who’ve been there know its popularity, but it feels like it is a secret island and that is the key factor for us when traveling to Greek islands these days.
Santorini and Mykonos are the Greek islands that get the headlines and the tourists. And yes, we’ve been to both. However, Greece has several thousand islands and a couple hundred of them are inhabited. Many of those inhabited ones are popular tourist destinations -thankfully without the mass tourism plaguing the two islands mentioned above. And those lesser-visited are the ones that we prefer: fewer tourists, better prices and simply enchanting settings!
|Peloponnese to the west of the Saronic islands|
Some of the most beautiful and alluring Greek islands we’ve visited – and we’ve been to quite a few in the last decade of travel here – are those of the Argo Saronic Islands. Spetses, way down at the tip of the map, was our destination. Our secret island, in a manner of speaking.
So come along and let me show you the island where John Fowles was inspired to write ‘The Magus’, a book considered to be the cult novel of the 20th Century. (We had one reader guess it – from the hints in our last post.)
|Poseidonion Hotel Spetses|
This time of year and through early fall, there are many choices of accommodations on the island, ranging from high end hotels to guest houses. The most iconic and picturesque hotel The Poseidonion Grand Hotel, has been welcoming guests since 1914. Its front patio was a perfect spot for people watching while sipping a glass of wine at day’s end. Room rates were 200+ euros, so it will be a special occasion getaway on some future trip – we were happy sipping wine for a few hours.
|Economou Mansion – Spetses|
An even older – built in 1851 — water-front mansion-turned-tourist-accommodation is where we stayed. The Economou Mansion has six guest rooms on its main floor and the upstairs is privately owned. Our room was spacious, opened to the sea and cost 125 euros a night, breakfast included.
The Mansion was located in an area called Kounoupitsa, about a 10 minute walk from the ferry dock and the town center. Spetses town is the only one on the island and most of the island’s 4,000 residents live in or near it. The combination of local business, tourist shops and tavernas and coffee shops can make it feel a bit congested so it was good to be a bit out of town.
Getting Around Spetses
|Taxis, scooters, and public bus are ways to get around the island|
Unlike neighbor island, Hydra, where cars are not allowed, Spetses allows residents to own cars – they just can’t drive them anywhere but to the ferry dock. Hotels are allowed vans to pick up guests and there are a couple of taxis. There’s only one rather narrow road on which you can travel around the island. It’s 24 kilometers long.
There are many options, however, for getting around and exploring the many beaches and the still somewhat forested hillsides that make up this charming little drop of land. Water and land taxis, horse drawn carriages, scooters, pedal-powered and electric bikes are among the options during high (tourist) season.
|Who said one needs to act their age?|
|An action shot: The Scout and The Scribe on the open road|
We last had been on Spetses in late October, 10 years ago (when the only Quad shop still open in town had deemed us ‘too old’ to rent a ‘quad’, btw) so we’d walked across the island. We recalled the lush forest that covered most the land thanks to the efforts of island resident Sotirios Anargyros, who bought up 45% of the island and between 1913 and 1923 planted the forests. Upon his death he left the land to the people with the stipulation that it never be built upon. The island’s original name was Pityousa, which means, ‘pine clad’. Sadly, on our island tour we saw acres and acres of charred hillsides – the results of a forest fire two years ago. The cause of which has not been determined.
|A wildfire two years ago destroyed a huge area of forest|
But the beautiful cove beaches remain, mansions are tucked away on hillsides and a trip around this island reminds us of just how much there is to see beyond the town’s borders. However, there’s plenty to see and do in town. There was so much that we didn’t get to either of the two museums and there are another – at least – four restaurants on our list to try. We can hardly wait to return. (I’ve not mentioned the food – which was mouth-wateringly good only because I will be telling you more about it next week!)
|Spetses town at night enchants|
Spetses is a four-hour drive from our house and a 25 minute ferry ride from a port on the tip of the Peloponnese. From Athens’ port of Piraeus, a fast ferry will get you to Spetses in two hours.
Thanks for coming along on this jaunt in what could be our island-hopping summer. We’ll be back next week, with another ‘taste’ of Greek travel (emphasis on taste!) Hope you’ll join us once again and bring some friends with you! In the meantime, safe travels to you and yours
Linking this week with:
Thursday, May 23, 2019
Armchair travels to some Novel Destinations
|Road trips will be what we do this spring in Greece|
The latest update on our renewal status was that the review process has become ‘more detailed and complicated after the system update’. . .hmmm. Does that sound ominous to anyone else but me?
|Morning on Hydra Island|
We are both feeling the travel bug’s itch though and with Greece having an estimated 160 to 227 (depending on the source) inhabited islands, we are going to make the most of as many of them as we can while living here.
This weekend we are returning to one we visited a decade ago; so long ago that most of the details of that trip have faded. I do remember the pounding rainstorm we had there – the one that kept ferries from coming to the island because the sea was so rough. The Scout, on the other hand, remembers the wonderful walk we took when the rain let up a bit. Funny, how memories differ when looking back on trips.
|Ferry arrives at Poros Island|
I’ll tell you more about this island next week but since the focus of today’s post is armchair travel and novel destinations, I’ll give you a teaser about the island: John Fowles conceived the idea of his novel Magus while he lived on this island in the 1950’s teaching English. It took him 12 years to complete the book that has often been called the ‘cult novel of the 20th Century.” Any guesses based on that clue as to where we are going?
We have had a few great ‘novel’ and ‘not so novel’ getaways in recent months so join us in some armchair travels:
|Sailing to a Greek island|
Yes, I know we live in Greece, but I love getting insights into this country’s history through novels. Patricia Wilson, a novelist living on Rhodes, took us back in time in her books, Villa of Secrets, set in Rhodes and her Island of Secrets, set in Crete. Both novels are based on actual events that took place during World War II and the tales were so interesting that we read the books back-to-back and had to impatiently wait for the arrival of her most recent book, Secrets of Santorini (which just came out). You want a great get-away, I guarantee these books will take you there.
|The Taj Mahal Hotel – Mumbai, India|
Sujata Massey’s novel, The Widows of Malabar Hill, is a mystery book set in 1920’s India. In it she introduces her character Perveen Mistry, Bombay’s only female lawyer and a mystery sleuth as well. I am delighted to see she is keeping this character around and has just had her next book in this series published. As a former newspaper reporter, I love seeing reporters-turn-writers. Massey was a reporter for the Baltimore Evening Sun before becoming a full-time novelist.
Not so Novel Destinations
|Me at the real – not movie version – Bramasole|
So many long years ago Frances Mayes with her Under the Tuscan Sun tales got me to thinking that ‘one day’ we just might have a similar adventure. The book, now more than 20 years old, is still one of my favorites. I am re-reading it again this summer for a taste of Tuscany. . .and recommend it as a great armchair getaway. For those of you who’ve seen the movie, do read the book as she has practical things like mouth-watering recipes as well as inspirational tales of taking a leap into the unknown. It is particularly interesting to see where that leap took her: she and Ed sell Bramasole-labeled olive oil and wine, she just wrote another book about Italy, this one a travel guide, Meet Me in the Piazza and was interviewed at Bramasole on U.S. television’s, CBS Sunday Morning.
When I finish with Frances I am moving on to Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence as he was another that helped formulate my daydreams. Mr. Mayle died last year and his last book, My 25 Years in Provence, Reflections on Then and Now will soon be on my bedside table.
|Karen and Rich McCann at Petro’s in Trahilio|
And in today’s mail I received Karen McCann’s Dancing in the Fountain, How to Enjoy Living Abroad. I have a copy back in the State’s — she also provided a nudge back in 2012 when I read of the adventures she and her husband Rich had experienced when moving to Seville, Spain. If you missed my last post, she and Rich were in The Mani with us for three days – days filled with tale telling and much laughter. I am certain I will love the book all over again and you would as well.
That’s all the armchair travel time I have for today — time to start packing. What books are you reading? Any recommendations?
Thanks for the time you’ve spent with us – hope to see you back next week when I’ll be telling tales from ‘that’ island. . . have you guessed it yet?
Linking this week with:
Friday, May 10, 2019
Meeting Those Who Enjoy Living Abroad
|Karen and I explore the interior of a Mani Tower|
Mediterranean Comfort Food Tour
Karen and Rich have embarked on a Mediterranean Comfort Food Tour, using public transportation to travel around the Mediterranean rim with stops in North Macedonia, Bosnia, Slovenia, Italy and France before they return to Seville in mid-August.
|Ferry, bus, train and other public transportation is the McCann plan|
‘We are Coming to Greece’
Eating our Way Through The Mani
|Limeni, The Mani, Peloponnese|
|Pumpkin risotto, pita wraps with Mani ham and chees and rooster were among our selections|
TRAHILIO/TRACHILLA: By whatever name, the little village ‘at the end of the road’ was our destination the second evening together. Akrogiali, the restaurant operated seasonally by Petro and his wife, had opened earlier last week for its summer run. His tables, flanked by the sea on one side and the main road through town on the other, are usually packed in the summer.
|The meze plate is complimentary with our wine|
The setting, the hospitality and the food always combine to knock it out of the ballpark when dining here. We take all visitors here for a taste of ‘real Greece’.
KASTANIA: Our ‘real Greece’ theme continued on Saturday when we headed up into the mountains for a visit to this village named for chestnuts. I’ve written before about their October Chestnut Festival. We toured a renovated Mani Tower and a restored church here working up a thirst, which we quenched at the local taverna. . .we were the only customers.
|Sipping and chatting in Kastania|
|After several meze plates we shared appetizers|
|Those who Enjoy Living Abroad|
Thanks for being with us this week
check out Karen and Rich’s travels on her blog and we’ll see you back here next week. Safe travels to you!
Linking this week with:
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Monday, April 29, 2019
‘It’s the Rule’
Grounded: ‘Because it is the rule’
|Hydra Island – Leonard Cohen made his home here|
But our trip in late March to the Immigration Office to renew our Greek residency permit put an end to the possibility of those spring trips real quick.
It was at the glassed-in counter in the rather drab office in the outskirts of Kalamata where our applications began their journey through layers of bureaucratic reviews.
They were reviewed first at the ground floor counter as we stood there watching and answering questions about them, then they headed ‘upstairs’ and if they passed the review there, they’d be off to Athens for further review. We don’t know where they are now.
|Temporary residence permits – do not smile, we were told|
We’d passed the first inspection and were issued our temporary permits; paper versions (pictured above) of what will be plastic cards one day when The Scout asked what he thought was a logistics question,
‘Now, we can travel with this document, right?’
‘You can return to the United States,’ said our attorney, ‘but you can’t travel anywhere else outside Greece until you have your permanent resident’s permit. . .or you risk forfeiting your right to residency.’
“We could last time,’. sa >Why can’t we now?’
“Because it is the rule,” answered our attorney. We all chuckled.
The Scout redirected his question to the official behind the counter, who answered, “Well, because it is the rule!” Again we all chuckled. . .
. . .because ‘it is the rule/law/way it is done’ is such a standard answer that you almost expect it as an explanation to a myriad of situations.
We quit chuckling when they said we’d likely get our plastic cards in LATE June or MID-July, some four months down the road.
Goodbye spring travels in Europe.
From the Land of the Free
|Greek beach at Kitries – Peloponnese|
Such a simple phrase. But let me tell you it doesn’t jive with the American mindset.
We ‘Yanks’ hail from the ‘land of the free’ where we sing out ‘Let Freedom Ring’ and where our ‘unalienable rights include life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’. (And travel, you’ve probably figured out, is that pursuit of happiness for us.)
|Kythira Island – Greece|
Many of you are probably thinking, ‘So what’s the big deal? You are in Greece — tough place to be stuck, right?’
And in a way, that’s a reasonable observation. Greece offers multitudes of destinations. We will likely add a few more to our ‘been there’ list by mid-summer.
My point here is that being told by a government –wherever you are living in the world — that you can travel to one place but the rest of the world is off limits, just doesn’t compute.
Living Life Differently
While I generally write about the good side of ‘living differently’, there are frustrations that come with living an expat life. And this immigration process is one that anyone considering making an expat life in Greece needs to take seriously.
|A ferry trip may be in the offing this spring to some Greek destination|
You see, it isn’t just us.
Two other American couples living in our area re-applied for residency permit renewals the end of November 2018. One of the four got his permit — the plastic card — a month ago, but because of errors made in the immigration office, his wife got hers two weeks ago. An even better tale from their experience was: they overpaid by 50 euros but Immigration will only make a refund into a Greek bank account. Not having one, they tried to open one but to do so the bank needed the residence permit which she didn’t have. . .you get the idea. . .
Immigration officials lost a document submitted by the other American couple so they had to round up a replacement copy and submitted it a couple months ago. It is going on a five month wait for them. They’ve yet to receive their plastic cards
Another friend who spends a portion of his life living in Mykonos had his original residence permit expire while he waited for his renewed permit – he’d submitted the paperwork more than a year before. The government allowed him to stay despite the expiration, but not to leave until the new permit was issued without risking his residency status. In that case, the delay was the backlog of applications to review.
When we first applied in 2017 our cards were issued in seven weeks — at the time it seemed an eternity. But the plastic card system was new to Greece then and the delay was caused by fingerprint machines and the photos that had to be incorporated in the process.
Two years later it is taking months for the review of documents to be completed and the cards issued. The cost, by the way, went from 300 euros application fee to 1,000 euros per person.
The reality: We are Immigrants
|We are immigrants – and delighted two years ago when our cards came|
The fact is we are immigrants. We’ve chosen to be and we are working our way through the legalities – and ‘rules’ — that are associated with our choice.
As I’ve told you before going through an immigration process, even when you choose to do it, is humbling. It is also frustrating and rather un-nerving at times.
Our experiences have made us more sympathetic to all immigrants world-wide. It isn’t easy even when you have the time and money required. We can’t imagine how it must be for families uprooted by war, famine or who just hope to make a better life for themselves to set forth seeking a new country.
I read a FB post recently that was a statement about people coming to the United States and an abbreviated version of it was, “if they want to live here, then they need to speak English.”
I thought about our efforts and desires to live in Greece. And our lack of ability to speak Greek. Thankfully speaking the language isn’t a requirement for residency permits. Our Greek friends cheer us on when we conquer a new word or phrase but no one had demanded we speak the language in order to be allowed to stay here or to be a part of the community.
|Road trip in the Peloponnese|
Come to think about it, that is a pretty kind way of treating us. It is a good life here, even with rules that we question. The Scout’s been at work with Greek guidebooks and maps for the last couple of days. . ..
Thanks as always for being with us on this journey through our new world. We appreciate your time and interest. Your comments and emails are so welcome. We’ll be back next week and hope you will be back as well for another tale from Travelnwrite. Safe travels